Cycling’s Best Week Is Here

Associated Press' photographer, Laurent Cipriani, shifts the focus from cyclists of Tour de France to bystanders in his series titled 'Along the Road'

Associated Press’ photographer, Laurent Cipriani, shifts the focus from cyclists of Tour de France to bystanders in his series titled ‘Along the Road’

Welcome to the best three weeks in professional cycling. The Tour de France is the world’s most popular and grueling cycling race. It is a 23-day journey throughout France — and occasionally other European countries — comprising 21 stages, and the route is different every year. The first edition of the Tour was in 1903. The 2015 edition of the Tour will run July 4-26, beginning in Utrecht, Netherlands and ending on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

If photographing the Tour de France doesn’t sound difficult enough, imagine doing it while riding on the back of a motorbike travelling up to 60 miles per hour. Laurent Cipriani has been doing that for the Associated Press since 2011, part of a team of photographers, editors, and drivers—what he refers to as “a travelling theater.” While Cipriani’s focus is on the cyclists, what initially made an impression on him was the amount of people lined up along the streets watching the race.

A little more about the race: the most iconic symbol of the Tour is the yellow jersey, or le maillot jeune. The yellow jersey is worn by the race leader and is awarded after each of the 21 stages. Eddy Merckx holds the record for the most days in the yellow jersey — 96 — from 1969 to 1975. In total, there are 22 teams consisting of nine riders each for a total of 198 riders. One rider is designated the team leader, the rider who is gunning for a jersey or multiple stage wins. The eight other riders are called domestiques, the French word for servant. Their job is to work for the team leader by setting pace, breaking wind so the leader can draft, and shielding the leader from opponents, among other duties. Sometimes, they specialize in sprinting or climbing to help their team leader during a flat or mountainous stage. Nineteen riders have won multiple Tours, but it’s the French who have the most wins as a country:21 have won the Tour a total of 36 times.

According to Cipriani, the evolution of photography—from the length of telephoto lenses to the aesthetic decisions to focus primarily on the cyclists—create images that don’t tell the entire story about what happens over the three-week event. In 2012, he tried taking some pictures of the people he saw whipping past him but wasn’t happy with the results, primarily because he didn’t have time to think about doing anything but the job at hand. In 2013, however, after a year of thinking about how to capture the bystanders, he started work on “Along the Road,” a series about them.

“I like the dual meaning of these photographs: a portrait of France at a given time, and an open door to the interpretation of the viewer. During my editing time, I thought about the words of Joel Sternfield,‘No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium.”

Read more here and view the series here.

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